It’s Time for Paleo Bread: Hunter-Gatherers Were Bakers Before They Were Farmers

New research shows grain was consumed in the U.K. 2,000 years before it was grown there. It’s time to get baking, Paleos.

Adherents of the notably grain-free diet might consider adding ancient wheat varieties such as einkorn and farro to their meals, given a new study that suggests hunter-gatherers in what is now England were eating wheat long before they learned to farm it.

The research, published Thursday in the journal Science, reports that wheat DNA was found at a Mesolithic site near the Isle of Wight on the English Channel. No wheat pollen was present, and the samples matched similar traces found in the Near East. The paper concludes that hunter-gatherers in the area were trading with more advanced communities some 2,000 years before they started farming cereal grains at home.

Granted, this doesn’t change the narrative of what people ate in Britain during the Paleolithic era, going as far back as 2.5 million years—although it’s likely that people sought out carbs back then too. But as commenters on any story about archaeological research that undermines the contemporary notion of the Paleo diet will tell you, it’s not about eating just like a caveman. Rather, the idea is to cut out processed foods, cut back on empty carbs from sugar and highly processed grains, and generally rely more on whole ingredients. But why exclude a cereal like einkorn, a close relative of wild wheat that has been around for more than 10,000 years, or farro, which is only slightly “younger”?

The highly processed, additive-laden foods that make up the bulk of many people’s diet are associated with any number of health ills. Most recently,common emulsifiers were linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other digestive diseases. Meanwhile, whole grains have repeatedly been found to have significant health benefits, including a reduced risk of overall mortality.

Robin Allaby, an anthropologist and plant geneticist at the University of Warwick and the study’s lead author, told NPR that hunter-gatherers “were perfectly happy with using the products of agriculture” some 8,000 years ago. “But they didn’t actually start farming themselves,” he added. “They were interacting with the farmers some ways away, contributing to this process [of creating a Neolithic agricultural society], which is not the conventional view.”

So in a way, these ancient Britons were just like us—happy to pick up a loaf of bread made of flour that someone else grew the grain for.

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